Natural stone is a traditional building material used in structures all over the world. Where this material is plentiful, building with stone is relatively inexpensive and produces a strong, lasting structure. Like most dense materials, stone has very little insulative power. However, its great weight and density allows this material to store heat, releasing it slowly over the course of one or more days. When used correctly, stone can help reduce the amount of energy needed to keep homes comfortable.
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Stone, like concrete, brick and similar materials, has a high thermal mass. It absorbs heat over the course of the day, especially when exposed to direct sunlight. Unlike metal and glass, stone heats up and cools down very slowly. Homeowners can use stone in building to dampen the effects of sudden temperature changes. Placing stone walls on the sunny side of a house allows them to absorb heat when temperatures are warm and release it when the weather cools. This keeps a home warmer in cold weather and cooler when the temperatures are high.
Solid stone walls tend to pass heat in both directions --- both into the home and into the ground or outside air. This can lead to reduced thermal efficiency. While stone passes indoor heat outdoors more slowly than glass or a conventional uninsulated wall, it is considered less efficient than an insulated wall. Greenhomebuilding.com recommends building a double wall, with an airspace or insulation placed in the centre. Homeowners can also apply insulation on the outside of an existing stone wall to take advantage of thermal mass without losing too much supplemental heat.
Stone's heat-retention characteristics are only beneficial under some weather conditions. A stone wall can store daytime heat in cold weather, releasing it at night, but only when exposed to bright sun and relatively warm conditions on a regular basis. Long cold spells with little sun encourage heat to leach out of the home through the stone. Likewise, during a long hot spell with no cool nights, stone won't cool the house during the day. Stone homes show the best thermal performance in climates where temperatures vary between night and day.
Even where natural stone is readily available, it costs more to build with this material than with other materials high in thermal mass. Natural stone masonry requires more skill and training than building with more regular concrete blocks, brick or poured concrete. This makes stone a poor choice for homeowners interested primarily in saving money on energy costs. Choose stone when its visual appeal and long lifespan are also desirable.
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